Colorado Lives: The Story of Reefer Madness

Ian-Fortey by Ian-Fortey on Apr. 16, 2014

Three months ago, recreational marijuana became legal in Colorado.  Those against the move promised higher crime rates and general chaos.  Kids would become addicted, people would die, everyone would regret it.  One California Sherriff assured Denver residents that, once it was legal, nothing would stop thugs from putting on masks, kicking in your door and stealing your weed at gunpoint. 

None of that happened.

Crime in Colorado has decreased in the past three months.  Property crime is down almost 15% over last year.  Violent crimes are down about 3%.  A PLOS One study conducted on data from 1990 to 2006 indicated that, in every location in the US where medical marijuana had been legalized, there was no significant rise in any kind of violent crimes that anti-drug crusaders have long promised would be the result of legalized pot.

The war on drugs is misguided, particularly when it comes to marijuana, for a very simple reason – marijuana does not make you a violent criminal.  That is not and has never been a side effect of smoking pot.  The entire culture of marijuana as we know it in 2014 is one of snack food, X Box and laughing at barely funny jokes.  Law makers can ignore this for as long as they choose to keep those pickles wedged in their asses, but every rational person knows the truth and evidence supports it: weed doesn’t make criminals.  Illegal weed does.  The rise and fall of crimes rates corresponding to the implementation and subsequent repeal of Prohibition mirror this perfectly.  When you make something that adults can use responsibly illegal, you invite crime.  When you treat adults like adults and let them be responsible, they will act responsibly.

According to the PLOS study, if anything there may be a link between declines in homicide rates and legal access to marijuana and again the stereotype bears this out.  Cheech and Chong were not gunslingers, they were slackers.  Potheads are synonymous with slackassery.  Where did anyone ever get the idea that weed would cause you to freak out?

Those of us who have enjoyed the movie Reefer Madness are aware that uptight, button down America has been convinced that marijuana is basically psychosis in a bong since the 1930s.  In that film, pot smoking women are whores and men become unstable, violent killers.  If this has never been a truism, how did it come about?  Again we return to Prohibition.

Prohibition was a massive failure and eventually lawmakers realized it had to come to an end.  However, there was still a lot of money to be made in America at that time and lots of people were making lots of money from the illegal booze trade.  Once it was scrapped, it wasn’t long before marijuana stepped up as the next social pariah.  The effort to demonize weed was lead in part by Prohibition Commissioner Harry Ansligner and media magnate William Randolph Hearst, a man not above making up lies and printing them as fact in his papers.  He demonized marijuana in the public eye, linking it extensively to violent crime.  His motives for this can only be guessed at, though it’s speculated it was in part to crush the hemp industry, which was huge at the time, and partially due to Hearst’s own racist leanings as marijuana was frequently associated with minorities, particularly blacks and Hispanics.  In fact, there’s an abundance of evidence to suggest marijuana laws were historically enacted any place where white majorities wanted to control minorities. The ban on marijuana in Canada was spurned into motion by a racist feminist writer who, despite having no experience with the drug, was convinced Canada was being overrun by Chinese junkies.

This woman was a bitch? The hell you say.

In America, Hearst created the ideal of Reefer Madness.  Pushers were going to invade your neighborhood, seduce your children into leaving school, getting high, having sex and committing crimes.  They would listen to jazz music at speakeasies and never be good, upstanding citizens again because the grip of marijuana was like iron. 

Today you can watch Reefer Madness the movie and laugh at its stupidity, it’s usually sold as a kitschy comedy in fact, but it’s also exactly the way the current and all past administrations have understood marijuana. The legal understanding of weed is based entirely on 80 year old outrageous lies and, on the one hand, surely everyone knows this, but law makers are still so extremely reluctant to accept it. 

Colorado is still standing 3 months later.  More and more states are agreeing that they, the people, want marijuana to be legalized.  There’s untold income potential from taxation, there’s resources freed up in the legal system to pursue more prescient issues and there is the fact that it’s pot.  For God’s sake, it’s pot.  It’s less damaging than either alcohol or cigarettes and numerous studies, hundreds upon hundreds, have confirmed this again and again.

In 2014 we have Presidents who have smoked pot.  One in three Americans admit to smoking weed, that’s over 100 million, and those are just the ones who admit it.  That means one in three of those law makers are probably secretly smoking up, those judges sentencing people to stiff jail terms and the cops arresting them.  It’s out there, it’s the biggest lie everyone indulges in still, somehow.  But, slowly, it’s changing.  Thing is, if 100 million Americans are smoking up, and it’s only illegal because of lies made up in the 1930’s, are you happy knowing America can keep a law on the books for over 80 years, a law one in three people don’t respect, a law based on total BS?  What does that tell you about the way the world in which we live works?